A horrible story is coming out of North Charleston, South Carolina this week about an officer shooting a man 8 times in the back while fleeing on foot after a traffic stop.
What I’ve seen and read so far is not good…simply by the number of shots the officer fired, but do you know why that is?
Or do you know why it’s common for civilians or law enforcement to shoot their attackers 1, 2, or even 3 times in the back before realizing that their attacker has turned?
In short, reality isn’t what you see, and you have walked around your entire life consciously SEEING a reality that happened .5-.75 seconds ago. You don’t realize it normally, but everyone has memories of times where this came into play.
- One trick/illusion is to have someone lay a $20 on a table and put their hand 4” above it. You put your hand 4” above theirs and tell them to slap the table and trap the $20 bill as soon as they see your hand move. You (or a 6 year old) can take money from people using this trick all day long.
- Some people get into car wrecks where they “never saw it coming.”
- If you’ve ever tried blocking punches/strikes from someone who was within arm’s length, you have felt the effects of this visual delay. (Eventually, with the right training, you get past this by using your subconscious to identify pre-strike indicators and unconsciously react to the strike before it actually happens…we’ll get to this in a minute.)
- If you’ve ever done quick draw contests where you react to the other person, you know how it’s almost impossible to “catch up” if you wait until you see them move.
- With driving, the visual perception delay/reactionary gap is generally accepted to be 2 seconds instead of .5 and drivers are continually told to stay at least 2 seconds behind the car in front of them to be able to consciously identify and react to threats/dangers.
Now the South Carolina shoot appears to have been a bad shoot. It sickens me on several levels that I don’t want to get into. In fact, there’s almost no connection whatsoever between that shooting and the rest of this article…but it’s incredibly important for you to know the difference between someone who shoots an attacker 1, 2, or even 3 times in the back and someone who shoots an attacker 8 times in the back.
Keep in mind that in many cases, good people DO justifiably shoot attackers in the back after they’ve stopped attacking and started to run away.
How can this be?
Because of the fact that there’s a half to three-quarter second delay between what our eyes see and what the conscious mind is able to process.
During that ½-3/4 second delay, the attacker has plenty of time to drop their weapon, turn, and depending on the situation, start moving away…all the while, the shooter is seeing what happened earlier—which was the attacker facing them and posing a threat.
If you’re firing off shots with quarter second splits, that means that you could feasibly shoot your attacker once in the side and a time or two in the back without even realizing that they were no longer a threat.
In fact, one use-of-force expert witness who testifies several times a month told a class that I was in that he could probably defend 1 or 2 shots in the back because of visual perception delay. 3 would be questionable, but 4 would be incredibly difficult because by that time, the fact that your attacker is no longer a threat should have made it to your conscious mind.
Other than cool trivia, how can you use this information?
First off, and most applicable, be conscious of the 2 second rule when you’re driving.
If you’re like me, you probably wondered, “If the visual perception delay is only .5 seconds, why do I need to stay 2 seconds back from the car in front of me?” and it’s a great question.
The answer is that if you’re on-alert and ready for something to happen, it only takes .5 seconds for your conscious mind to process simple pre-defined stimuli like “if his brake lights go on, I’ll hit my brakes.”
But the more complex the stimulus is, the longer the delay. If you have to judge approach speed, weather conditions, or other factors like how hard to hit the brakes, the processing/reaction time increases. If you’re distracted in the micro-second where the stimulus happens, there will be a delay between when the stimulus happens and when you get fully engaged BEFORE the .5 second visual perception delay even starts.
As an example, the average person can handle 7 chunks of information at a time and process those 7 chunks 18 times per second for a total of 126 chunks per second. Listening to a human voice, like a radio, phone, or another person in the car takes 40 chunks. Processing what they’re saying and thinking of a response takes a few more chunks. Paying attention to the car(s) in front of you takes a few more. Add in the cars around you, maintaining your speed, distance, place in the lane, and navigating and you see that you’re probably only devoting a chunk or two per second to the brake lights on the car ahead of you. That means that it might take a half second or more before the half second visual perception delay clock even starts!
In short, respect the 2 second gap rule.
The other examples are going to be less likely and more “tactical.”
First off, we’ve talked about the reactionary gap before. In short, it’s the amount of time/distance that you want between you and a threat/attacker so that you can effectively respond to whatever they do. For an attacker with a knife with no obstacles between you and them, it’s generally thought of as 21 feet (but is really much more).
If you’re within that reactionary gap…say a mugger or a heated argument within a couple of feet…you MUST switch to pre-defined triggers, pre-defined responses, stay focused, avoid talking, and keep them talking.
Because even though the conscious mind is .5-.75 seconds behind reality, the unconscious mind is about .1 seconds behind reality. In addition, the conscious mind processes things sequentially, or one at a time, one after another. The unconscious mind uses parallel processing and processes several things at once…as many as 10,000 to 1 million times more chunks of information per second than the conscious mind.
But you can do a few things to switch your mind from that .5 second delay that your conscious mind has to the .1 second delay that the unconscious mind has.
First off, stay calm. The calmer you can stay, the more likely you can tap into the speed of the unconscious mind.
Second, define 1, 2, or 3 triggers that will cause you to take action…the fewer the better, but better doesn’t always mesh with reality. The triggers should be, “If he does x.”
Keep in mind that in an altercation, your attacker is either attacking, complying, trying to limit loss, or delaying (sometimes with sweet words) to create an advantage to destroy you more effectively. This concept of 4 options is a tiny part of an incredible book from Ken Murray called, “Training At The Speed Of Life.” As far as you’re concerned, if they’re not complying 100%, they’re still a threat. Words mean nothing and action means everything.
It’s better to game these triggers out in your mind ahead of time so that you aren’t trying to figure stuff out in the heat of the moment.
Third, pre-define your response. “If he does x, I’ll do y”. And the more specific “y” is, the better. As an example, “If he goes for a weapon, I’ll shoot” may not be specific enough.
I had a live fire, live ammo, force on force training a couple of months ago where I was humbled on this.
I was doing a “member shoot” with famed low-light instructor, Ed Santos, where we were doing a live fire, force on force scenario using projectors and screens that we shot into. Ed was the aggressor and was 15 feet away from me (to the side) and his image was projected in real time on the screen in front of me. Since we were only 15 feet away from each other, we were talking to each other in real time and could see each other’s movements/reactions in real time. He was looking at me and I was looking straight ahead at his image on the screen.
At one point in the scenario, Ed reached for his gun with a furtive movement (a fast movement indicating malicious intent) and aimed it at me. I had my gun drawn, was aimed at the midpoint between his armpits, and had a pre-defined trigger to shoot if he went for a weapon.
But I didn’t have a properly pre-defined action…Even though I was aimed exactly where I wanted to be, I didn’t have the “where” picked out where I was going to shoot and I didn’t have the “how many times” picked out.
So, using my subconscious, I was trying to pick out whether he had a weapon or an inert object in his hands, shot his gun (or the image of his gun on the screen in front of me) one time and stopped.
As far as the scenario went, I’d reacted incredibly fast and shot the gun almost immediately…seemingly a victory.
But I instantly knew I screwed up…and it’s bugged me for the last 2 months. I didn’t define WHERE I should shoot and I didn’t define how many shots I should fire before assessing whether or not he was still a threat. If I just would have pre-defined 3 shots to the T4 vertebrae or 2 shots to an imaginary spot midway between the armpits, or something similarly detailed, the outcome would have been different.
If you’ve got your gun drawn, pre-define your action with detail, as in, “If he goes for a weapon, I’ll step to the side, fire 2 shots midway between his armpits, step to the side, and re-asses.” It could be 1 shot, 2 shots, or 3 shots…depending on your department, prosecutor, political climate, and/or your ability to put fast, accurate rounds on target.
If someone had been trained or trained themselves to think along the lines of, “if he moves, kill him” then it might explain why they would shoot someone 8 times in the back when the person was fleeing–this shows how important it is to have your triggers and actions pre-defined correctly.
Specifically, make sure that you’re verbally and mentally training, practicing, and rehearsing shooting to stop a threat…not shooting to kill or shooting to prevent someone from stealing your stuff, but shooting to stop a threat. If you train your mind to only shoot at a threat, you could save yourself a lot of grief.
Next, get them talking and avoid talking.
Unless you’ve practiced talking while your unconscious mind is driving the ship…normally indicated by a monotone voice and an “odd” cadence, don’t talk or stick to simple, pre-rehearsed commands. As soon as you “think” about what you’re going to say, you virtually guarantee a half to ¾ second delay in reaction time.
Similarly, keep your attacker talking. If you’re going to try to surprise him, see if you can ask him something along the lines of, “What do you want to get out of this?” or some other open ended question that forces them to come up with a multi-word answer that will increase their visual perception delay and reactionary gap.
Finally, train, practice, and practice some more. If you’ve practiced your skills to the point where they’re almost boring and you don’t have to consciously think about them, you’re much more likely to actually be able to perform at a high level under stress.
For most people, this means spending a TON of money on ammo and range fees, but the fact that you’re here means you’ve got a HUGE leg up. You’ve got resources at your fingertips that are used by US Tier I units and our allies. High speed, low cost, at-home firearms training resources like Tactical Firearms Training Secrets, Dry Fire Training Cards, The “Shoot Better Than SWAT in 30 Days” Force Recon 3010Pistol, Navy SEAL Concealed Carry Masters Course, the Insight 1-hole-group/unconscious shooting system, and more.
Could you feasibly fire 8 rounds into someone’s back without realizing it? Yes…it’s possible. Anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, extreme exhaustion, pain, painkillers, sheer panic, bad triggers, and bad pre-defined reactions all COULD do that. Is it likely? Who knows…it doesn’t really matter what’s possible theoretically. There’s video of the officer in SC that appears to make a pretty clear case and you want to train/practice enough so that you’re never that disconnected from reality.
Questions? Comments? Sound off below.